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In Avengers: Infinity War, the various heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will finally come face-to-face with the Mad Titan Thanos – but will the villain actually live up to the hype or be just another boring antagonist? Up to this point, the MCU has had a recurring problem with villains being forgettable or otherwise without gravitas, a hurdle that must be overcome if Infinity War is to succeed.
It’s been a long path to the Avengers squaring off with Thanos. After he was teased in the post-credits scene for 2012’s The Avengers, we’ve only seen him onscreen twice since – once in Guardians of the Galaxy and again in the mid-credits for Avengers: Age of Ultron . The powers that be really doubled-down on the incremental nature of the MCU’s storytelling, letting an entertaining, varied slate of productions do the talking while slowly building towards a big, ever-encroaching climax.
That’s meant we’ve become attached to a diverse set of protagonists from a number of fascinating settings as tension gradually mounted in the background. The paths of the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy and Thanos converging has been an inevitability for over a dozen movies now, yet we know very little about the purple wrongdoer other than he has a reputation for cruelty and fighting him will be the greatest challenge our heroes have yet faced.
While letting the threat of Thanos approach at a leisurely pace has done wonders for the hype of the third Avengers , the troubling trend for Marvel letting their movie villains fall by the wayside has also created an air of apprehension. Wrongdoers that leave an impression have been in the minority and even at that, most are killed off in the same film they’re introduced, so there’s no opportunity for actual character progression. But despite being a genuine problem of the MCU, it’s a criticism that often seems swept under the rug with the continuous celebration of Marvel Studios’ movies.
And this is especially worth discussing now in the light of the lackluster returns for DC’s Justice League . One of the bigger bones picked with that superhero team-up is how lame Steppenwolf came across as a central villain . The minion of Darkseid is about as humdrum as it’s possible to be in a modern day blockbuster, the gray hue of his skin matching our collective ambivalence to whatever he was threatening. To be fair, for all the (rightful) critique aimed at Steppenwolf and his vampiric army, he’s no less blandly forgettable than Ronan the Accuser from Guardians of the Galaxy or Malekith from Thor: The Dark World, yet Marvel have never courted anywhere near the same level of backlash for similarly poor design choices.
There are reasons for this, the main one being the solid foundation the MCU has built itself on. There’s an obvious and coherent structure in the Marvel movies that’s kept them on an upward trajectory since Phase 1. Whether it be a heist movie or a fantasy about wizards and alternate dimensions, fans know what to expect. And even if the plotting or the central conflict between hero and villain is a touch weak, the standard of effects and performances is generally good and even if everything else fails, there’s the strong characters and overarching relevance to deeper Marvel canon.
Marvel’s baddies are regularly under-written and under-utilized, but their films are generally good enough that said complaint becomes minor in comparison. The DC Extended Universe hasn’t established that same reliability yet . Wonder Woman is the only one of those movies to have unanimous appeal, the rest have been at best middling with a myriad of issues. It’s not that Marvel’s villain problem is forgiven, it’s that the issue often pales with the other interesting, exciting things their movies are doing. For DC, the villains are one in a long line of other issues that plague their pictures.
That said, Thanos needs to be better served as a legitimate evil because this is the battle we’ve been waiting for. This is what was teased at the end of Phase 1. Marvel need to sharpen up here because the goodwill that’s allowed aspects of their productions to slide has been in service of what happens with Avengers 3 and 4. He needs to be someone that bucks the trends previously set and be an irredeemable, truly daunting terror for Steve Rogers and co